piyingxi (Shadow Puppet)

About this object

History of use

The character is Han Zhongli, one of the Eight Immortals. This piyingxi (shadow puppet) character is from the classic Chinese narrative, “Journey to the West,” sometimes known as “Monkey King,” which is full of action, acrobatics, and martial arts. Puppets 3338/8-20 represent the four main characters (Pigsy, Monkey King, Sandman, Buddhist Monk), their horse, and the Eight Immortals, who are associated with the stylized clouds (3338/21-22), which indicate their identities as immortal beings.

Iconographic meaning

The puppet is made in a classic north-eastern design (Luanzhou), from Luanzhouzhen in Heibei Province, one of the historically renowned regions of shadow puppetry in China.

Specific techniques

The cowhide is scraped extremely thin which, together with their jointed limbs, makes these puppets highly flexible when they perform high kicks, jumps, and flips. When performing, their distinctive designs and vibrant colours are visible on the glowing screen, enhancing the magical effects of the characters in motion.

Physical description

Han Zhongli or Zhongli Quan shadow puppet with separate head (part b) and magic fan (part c). He has long black hair, with two buns tied with red ribbon on his head. His face is heavily lined in red, and he has a long black beard and moustache. He wears a long purple-pink robe with circular green vine and flower designs, bordered by red. On his feet, he wears black shoes with green details on the toes and heels, and red edging. Limbs jointed with fibre at the shoulders, elbows, wrists and hips. Operated by three rods. The fan is orange-yellow with diagonal alternating bands of red and green on the blade, and a red fire-like detail on top. There is a small loop at the end of the shaft for the puppet's fingers.